Military Reform: Too Many Chiefs, Too Much Duplication

One of the more important decisions made by our military at the outset of World War II was that when Army divisions suffered attrition, the missing soldiers would be replaced piecemeal from the ranks of new recruits. This was problematical in the Army where it has long been understood that cohesiveness is a vital element of an army's effectiveness. Soldiers who go through training together develop bonds that sustain them against the rigors of combat. To send them by twos and threes into front line units where they did not know anyone and had no sense of identity with the unit they were assigned to led to poor morale and unnecessary casualties.

The reasoning for this policy was valid. If we replaced depleted divisions with fresh divisions the result would be a growing number of headquarters staffs with all of the officers, support staffs and bureaucracy that attend individual units. The result would be too many senior officers leading shadow divisions. In WWII we had one senior commander in Europe and two in the Pacific. Today we have senior commanders all over the place.

Unfortunately, the tendency to accumulate a top-heavy military is still very much with us in all of the services, and now also the new national security apparatus. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a former Navy officer, is one of the more astute analysts of this phenomenon. Everywhere he looks he sees "duplication of effort, inadequate responses to increasingly important missions, programs of record that continue along despite changes in the strategic environment, and inter-service fights over resources that get papered over in the belief that everyone can do everything with roughly equal shares of the pie."

McCain cited as an example of the problem the challenge of long-range precision military strikes in which "aircraft carriers, long-range bombers and ground-based missiles and rockets all have roles to play." Drones are also an excellent example of military procurement run amok. All of the services are developing their own drones and support organizations, as is the Central Intelligence Agency and other government entities. How many drone systems do we really need and should every agency have its own?

The cost of all this duplication and overlap is truly breath-taking. Advanced fighters cost half a billion, and individual missiles cost tens of millions -- costs that mount unnecessarily because each service must have its own. We are now spending $70 billion annually on a growing intelligence bureaucracy that is riddled with overlapping jurisdictions and duplication gathering more information than it can sensibly analyze.

The last thorough examination and overhaul of our national defense apparatus, the Goldwater-Nichols legislation of 1986, is overdue for an update. I was deeply involved in that effort and believe the time has come to do it again - though it is an open question whether this Congress can actually perform its basic functions anymore.

Lt. Gen. Clarence E. "Mac" McKnight, Jr., (USA-Ret) is the author of "From Pigeons to Tweets: A General Who Led Dramatic Change in Military Communications", published by The History Publishing Company.